TechGirlz partnered with Radnor Middle School this December for Computer Science Education Week to bring professional web developers to the classroom. TechGirlz volunteer Kristin Henson took the day off work to lead 5 computer classes and introduce nearly 100 kids to programming.
Although every child had written code by the end of class, this was only one small step toward engaging students with technology. One hour of code is not nearly enough time to comprehend programming concepts but it was enough to generate important questions such as “why are we learning this?” The answer was in the classroom discussion about everyday objects that use computers: games, robots, phones, cars, watches. One of the goals of CS Ed Week, beyond working to include CS education in all schools, is to “underscore the critical role of computing in all careers.” Computer technology is an integral part of every industry and the reliance on technological tools will only grow as these kids enter the workforce.
Radnor MS requires its 6th & 7th grade students to take computer classes and offers an advanced computer elective for 8th grade students. Unfortunately, the school is facing the same issue as the technology industry: only 25% of the 8th grade elective class is female. While the role models in the room were all female – the Radnor MS computer teacher, Gail Furman, and both TechGirlz representatives – the most frustrated students in the room were girls. A few of the girls in the classes complained that it was taking forever to write the lines of code and that the puzzles were stupid and boring. Henson and Johnson agreed with the students that it takes “forever” to program a computer to do one or two tasks. But they pointed out that not all technology jobs involve writing code and ran through a list of other important technology jobs: user experience, graphic design, animation, video game design. Henson shared her desire to learn about circuits and wearable technology, explaining how such technology would “greatly improve her ability to look super-fly on a regular basis.”
Will one class during a semester-long course convince these girls to study Computer Science? Maybe one or two more 7th grade girls will sign up for Mrs. Furman’s advanced computer class in 8th grade. Henson is happy that she could share the power of technology with the kids. “It’s awesome to be able to expand what people think is possible,” she said. With the collaboration of TechGirlz with the Radnor Township School District as well as the support of parents and the greater community, there are great possibilities to provide more technology education.
Dr. Kelly Murray, Supervisor of Instruction for the Radnor Township School District, is helping the district take action and working to expand the technology offerings at all levels of education. “Our community is committed to the cause,” says Murray, “with the recent creation of Partners4STEM, a district-supported group to engage parents and community members… building collaborative relationships with parents, teachers, community members and industry professionals.” Already planned for Spring 2016, the Elementary School STEM Club will continue to engage young learners with coding lessons from the New York Code + Design Academy while the high school will add courses in the Fall for Coding and Apple App.
With 1.4 million new jobs in technology projected for 2020, we all need kids to embrace technology. Schools are working to expand their technology curriculum to include coding and other computer technology topics but with hundreds of thousands of new technology jobs on the market each year, the change can’t come fast enough. Collaborative efforts to bring technology education and industry professionals to the classroom such as RTSD have started are great steps in the right direction.
Written by Sarah Johnson, photos taken by Michael Petitti.